Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac
There are houses in certain provincial towns whose aspect inspires
melancholy, akin to that called forth by sombre cloisters, dreary
moorlands, or the desolation of ruins. Within these houses there is,
perhaps, the silence of the cloister, the barrenness of moors, the
skeleton of ruins; life and movement are so stagnant there that a
stranger might think them uninhabited, were it not that he encounters
suddenly the pale, cold glance of a motionless person, whose
half-monastic face peers beyond the window-casing at the sound of an
unaccustomed step.

Such elements of sadness formed the physiognomy, as it were, of a
dwelling-house in Saumur which stands at the end of the steep street
leading to the chateau in the upper part of the town. This street--now
little frequented, hot in summer, cold in winter, dark in certain
sections--is remarkable for the resonance of its little pebbly
pavement, always clean and dry, for the narrowness of its tortuous
road-way, for the peaceful stillness of its houses, which belong to
the Old town and are over-topped by the ramparts. Houses three
centuries old are still solid, though built of wood, and their divers
aspects add to the originality which commends this portion of Saumur
to the attention of artists and antiquaries.

It is difficult to pass these houses without admiring the enormous
oaken beams, their ends carved into fantastic figures, which crown
with a black bas-relief the lower floor of most of them. In one place
these transverse timbers are covered with slate and mark a bluish line
along the frail wall of a dwelling covered by a roof _en colombage_
which bends beneath the weight of years, and whose rotting shingles
are twisted by the alternate action of sun and rain. In another place
blackened, worn-out window-sills, with delicate sculptures now
scarcely discernible, seem too weak to bear the brown clay pots from
which springs the heart's-ease or the rose-bush of some poor
working-woman. Farther on are doors studded with enormous nails, where
the genius of our forefathers has traced domestic hieroglyphics, of
which the meaning is now lost forever. Here a Protestant attested his
belief; there a Leaguer cursed Henry IV.; elsewhere some bourgeois has
carved the insignia of his _noblesse de cloches_, symbols of his
long-forgotten magisterial glory. The whole history of France is there.

Next to a tottering house with roughly plastered walls, where an
artisan enshrines his tools, rises the mansion of a country gentleman,
on the stone arch of which above the door vestiges of armorial
bearings may still be seen, battered by the many revolutions that have
shaken France since 1789. In this hilly street the ground-floors of
the merchants are neither shops nor warehouses; lovers of the Middle
Ages will here find the _ouvrouere_ of our forefathers in all its
naive simplicity. These low rooms, which have no shop-frontage, no
show-windows, in fact no glass at all, are deep and dark and without
interior or exterior decoration. Their doors open in two parts, each
roughly iron-bound; the upper half is fastened back within the room,
the lower half, fitted with a spring-bell, swings continually to and
fro. Air and light reach the damp den within, either through the upper
half of the door, or through an open space between the ceiling and a
low front wall, breast-high, which is closed by solid shutters that
are taken down every morning, put up every evening, and held in place
by heavy iron bars.

This wall serves as a counter for the merchandise. No delusive display
is there; only samples of the business, whatever it may chance to be,
--such, for instance, as three or four tubs full of codfish and salt,
a few bundles of sail-cloth, cordage, copper wire hanging from the
joists above, iron hoops for casks ranged along the wall, or a few
pieces of cloth upon the shelves. Enter. A neat girl, glowing with
youth, wearing a white kerchief, her arms red and bare, drops her
knitting and calls her father or her mother, one of whom comes forward
and sells you what you want, phlegmatically, civilly, or arrogantly,
according to his or her individual character, whether it be a matter
of two sous' or twenty thousand francs' worth of merchandise. You may
see a cooper, for instance, sitting in his doorway and twirling his
thumbs as he talks with a neighbor. To all appearance he owns nothing
more than a few miserable boat-ribs and two or three bundles of laths;
but below in the port his teeming wood-yard supplies all the cooperage
trade of Anjou. He knows to a plank how many casks are needed if the
vintage is good. A hot season makes him rich, a rainy season ruins
him; in a single morning puncheons worth eleven francs have been known
to drop to six. In this country, as in Touraine, atmospheric
vicissitudes control commercial life. Wine-growers, proprietors,
wood-merchants, coopers, inn-keepers, mariners, all keep watch of the
sun. They tremble when they go to bed lest they should hear in the
morning of a frost in the night; they dread rain, wind, drought, and
want water, heat, and clouds to suit their fancy. A perpetual duel goes
on between the heavens and their terrestrial interests. The barometer
smooths, saddens, or makes merry their countenances, turn and turn
about. From end to end of this street, formerly the Grand'Rue de
Saumur, the words: "Here's golden weather," are passed from door to
door; or each man calls to his neighbor: "It rains louis," knowing
well what a sunbeam or the opportune rainfall is bringing him.

On Saturdays after midday, in the fine season, not one sou's worth of
merchandise can be bought from these worthy traders. Each has his
vineyard, his enclosure of fields, and all spend two days in the
country. This being foreseen, and purchases, sales, and profits
provided for, the merchants have ten or twelve hours to spend in
parties of pleasure, in making observations, in criticisms, and in
continual spying. A housewife cannot buy a partridge without the
neighbors asking the husband if it were cooked to a turn. A young girl
never puts her head near a window that she is not seen by idling
groups in the street. Consciences are held in the light; and the
houses, dark, silent, impenetrable as they seem, hide no mysteries.
Life is almost wholly in the open air; every household sits at its own
threshold, breakfasts, dines, and quarrels there. No one can pass
along the street without being examined; in fact formerly, when a
stranger entered a provincial town he was bantered and made game of
from door to door. From this came many good stories, and the nickname
_copieux_, which was applied to the inhabitants of Angers, who
excelled in such urban sarcasms.

The ancient mansions of the old town of Saumur are at the top of this
hilly street, and were formerly occupied by the nobility of the
neighborhood. The melancholy dwelling where the events of the
following history took place is one of these mansions,--venerable
relics of a century in which men and things bore the characteristics
of simplicity which French manners and customs are losing day by day.
Follow the windings of the picturesque thoroughfare, whose
irregularities awaken recollections that plunge the mind mechanically
into reverie, and you will see a somewhat dark recess, in the centre
of which is hidden the door of the house of Monsieur Grandet. It is
impossible to understand the force of this provincial expression--the
house of Monsieur Grandet--without giving the biography of Monsieur
Grandet himself.

Monsieur Grandet enjoyed a reputation in Saumur whose causes and
effects can never be fully understood by those who have not, at one
time or another, lived in the provinces. In 1789 Monsieur Grandet
--still called by certain persons le Pere Grandet, though the number
of such old persons has perceptibly diminished--was a master-cooper,
able to read, write, and cipher. At the period when the French Republic
offered for sale the church property in the arrondissement of Saumur,
the cooper, then forty years of age, had just married the daughter of
a rich wood-merchant. Supplied with the ready money of his own fortune
and his wife's _dot_, in all about two thousand louis-d'or, Grandet
went to the newly established "district," where, with the help of two
hundred double louis given by his father-in-law to the surly
republican who presided over the sales of the national domain, he
obtained for a song, legally if not legitimately, one of the finest
vineyards in the arrondissement, an old abbey, and several farms. The
inhabitants of Saumur were so little revolutionary that they thought
Pere Grandet a bold man, a republican, and a patriot with a mind open
to all the new ideas; though in point of fact it was open only to
vineyards. He was appointed a member of the administration of Saumur,
and his pacific influence made itself felt politically and
commercially. Politically, he protected the ci-devant nobles, and
prevented, to the extent of his power, the sale of the lands and
property of the _emigres_; commercially, he furnished the Republican
armies with two or three thousand puncheons of white wine, and took
his pay in splendid fields belonging to a community of women whose
lands had been reserved for the last lot.

Under the Consulate Grandet became mayor, governed wisely, and
harvested still better pickings. Under the Empire he was called
Monsieur Grandet. Napoleon, however, did not like republicans, and
superseded Monsieur Grandet (who was supposed to have worn the
Phrygian cap) by a man of his own surroundings, a future baron of the
Empire. Monsieur Grandet quitted office without regret. He had
constructed in the interests of the town certain fine roads which led
to his own property; his house and lands, very advantageously
assessed, paid moderate taxes; and since the registration of his
various estates, the vineyards, thanks to his constant care, had
become the "head of the country,"--a local term used to denote those
that produced the finest quality of wine. He might have asked for the
cross of the Legion of honor.

This event occurred in 1806. Monsieur Grandet was then fifty-seven
years of age, his wife thirty-six, and an only daughter, the fruit of
their legitimate love, was ten years old. Monsieur Grandet, whom
Providence no doubt desired to compensate for the loss of his
municipal honors, inherited three fortunes in the course of this year,
--that of Madame de la Gaudiniere, born de la Bertelliere, the mother
of Madame Grandet; that of old Monsieur de la Bertelliere, her
grandfather; and, lastly, that of Madame Gentillet, her grandmother on
the mother's side: three inheritances, whose amount was not known to
any one. The avarice of the deceased persons was so keen that for a
long time they had hoarded their money for the pleasure of secretly
looking at it. Old Monsieur de la Bertelliere called an investment an
extravagance, and thought he got better interest from the sight of his
gold than from the profits of usury. The inhabitants of Saumur
consequently estimated his savings according to "the revenues of the
sun's wealth," as they said.

Monsieur Grandet thus obtained that modern title of nobility which our
mania for equality can never rub out. He became the most imposing
personage in the arrondissement. He worked a hundred acres of
vineyard, which in fruitful years yielded seven or eight hundred
hogsheads of wine. He owned thirteen farms, an old abbey, whose
windows and arches he had walled up for the sake of economy,--a
measure which preserved them,--also a hundred and twenty-seven acres
of meadow-land, where three thousand poplars, planted in 1793, grew
and flourished; and finally, the house in which he lived. Such was his
visible estate; as to his other property, only two persons could give
even a vague guess at its value: one was Monsieur Cruchot, a notary
employed in the usurious investments of Monsieur Grandet; the other
was Monsieur des Grassins, the richest banker in Saumur, in whose
profits Grandet had a certain covenanted and secret share.

Although old Cruchot and Monsieur des Grassins were both gifted with
the deep discretion which wealth and trust beget in the provinces,
they publicly testified so much respect to Monsieur Grandet that
observers estimated the amount of his property by the obsequious
attention which they bestowed upon him. In all Saumur there was no one
not persuaded that Monsieur Grandet had a private treasure, some
hiding-place full of louis, where he nightly took ineffable delight in
gazing upon great masses of gold. Avaricious people gathered proof of
this when they looked at the eyes of the good man, to which the yellow
metal seemed to have conveyed its tints. The glance of a man
accustomed to draw enormous interest from his capital acquires, like
that of the libertine, the gambler, or the sycophant, certain
indefinable habits,--furtive, eager, mysterious movements, which never
escape the notice of his co-religionists. This secret language is in a
certain way the freemasonry of the passions. Monsieur Grandet inspired
the respectful esteem due to one who owed no man anything, who,
skilful cooper and experienced wine-grower that he was, guessed with
the precision of an astronomer whether he ought to manufacture a
thousand puncheons for his vintage, or only five hundred, who never
failed in any speculation, and always had casks for sale when casks
were worth more than the commodity that filled them, who could store
his whole vintage in his cellars and bide his time to put the
puncheons on the market at two hundred francs, when the little
proprietors had been forced to sell theirs for five louis. His famous
vintage of 1811, judiciously stored and slowly disposed of, brought
him in more than two hundred and forty thousand francs.

Financially speaking, Monsieur Grandet was something between a tiger
and a boa-constrictor. He could crouch and lie low, watch his prey a
long while, spring upon it, open his jaws, swallow a mass of louis,
and then rest tranquilly like a snake in process of digestion,
impassible, methodical, and cold. No one saw him pass without a
feeling of admiration mingled with respect and fear; had not every man
in Saumur felt the rending of those polished steel claws? For this
one, Maitre Cruchot had procured the money required for the purchase
of a domain, but at eleven per cent. For that one, Monsieur des
Grassins discounted bills of exchange, but at a frightful deduction of
interest. Few days ever passed that Monsieur Grandet's name was not
mentioned either in the markets or in social conversations at the
evening gatherings. To some the fortune of the old wine-grower was an
object of patriotic pride. More than one merchant, more than one
innkeeper, said to strangers with a certain complacency: "Monsieur, we
have two or three millionaire establishments; but as for Monsieur
Grandet, he does not himself know how much he is worth."

In 1816 the best reckoners in Saumur estimated the landed property of
the worthy man at nearly four millions; but as, on an average, he had
made yearly, from 1793 to 1817, a hundred thousand francs out of that
property, it was fair to presume that he possessed in actual money a
sum nearly equal to the value of his estate. So that when, after a
game of boston or an evening discussion on the matter of vines, the
talk fell upon Monsieur Grandet, knowing people said: "Le Pere
Grandet? le Pere Grandet must have at least five or six millions."

"You are cleverer than I am; I have never been able to find out the
amount," answered Monsieur Cruchot or Monsieur des Grassins, when
either chanced to overhear the remark.

If some Parisian mentioned Rothschild or Monsieur Lafitte, the people
of Saumur asked if he were as rich as Monsieur Grandet. When the
Parisian, with a smile, tossed them a disdainful affirmative, they
looked at each other and shook their heads with an incredulous air. So
large a fortune covered with a golden mantle all the actions of this
man. If in early days some peculiarities of his life gave occasion for
laughter or ridicule, laughter and ridicule had long since died away.
His least important actions had the authority of results repeatedly
shown. His speech, his clothing, his gestures, the blinking of his
eyes, were law to the country-side, where every one, after studying
him as a naturalist studies the result of instinct in the lower
animals, had come to understand the deep mute wisdom of his slightest
actions.

"It will be a hard winter," said one; "Pere Grandet has put on his fur
gloves."

"Pere Grandet is buying quantities of staves; there will be plenty of
wine this year."

Monsieur Grandet never bought either bread or meat. His farmers
supplied him weekly with a sufficiency of capons, chickens, eggs,
butter, and his tithe of wheat. He owned a mill; and the tenant was
bound, over and above his rent, to take a certain quantity of grain
and return him the flour and bran. La Grande Nanon, his only servant,
though she was no longer young, baked the bread of the household
herself every Saturday. Monsieur Grandet arranged with
kitchen-gardeners who were his tenants to supply him with vegetables.
As to fruits, he gathered such quantities that he sold the greater part
in the market. His fire-wood was cut from his own hedgerows or taken
from the half-rotten old sheds which he built at the corners of his
fields, and whose planks the farmers carted into town for him, all cut
up, and obligingly stacked in his wood-house, receiving in return his
thanks. His only known expenditures were for the consecrated bread, the
clothing of his wife and daughter, the hire of their chairs in church,
the wages of la Grand Nanon, the tinning of the saucepans, lights,
taxes, repairs on his buildings, and the costs of his various
industries. He had six hundred acres of woodland, lately purchased,
which he induced a neighbor's keeper to watch, under the promise of an
indemnity. After the acquisition of this property he ate game for the
first time.

Monsieur Grandet's manners were very simple. He spoke little. He
usually expressed his meaning by short sententious phrases uttered in
a soft voice. After the Revolution, the epoch at which he first came
into notice, the good man stuttered in a wearisome way as soon as he
was required to speak at length or to maintain an argument. This
stammering, the incoherence of his language, the flux of words in
which he drowned his thought, his apparent lack of logic, attributed
to defects of education, were in reality assumed, and will be
sufficiently explained by certain events in the following history.
Four sentences, precise as algebraic formulas, sufficed him usually to
grasp and solve all difficulties of life and commerce: "I don't know;
I cannot; I will not; I will see about it." He never said yes, or no,
and never committed himself to writing. If people talked to him he
listened coldly, holding his chin in his right hand and resting his
right elbow in the back of his left hand, forming in his own mind
opinions on all matters, from which he never receded. He reflected
long before making any business agreement. When his opponent, after
careful conversation, avowed the secret of his own purposes, confident
that he had secured his listener's assent, Grandet answered: "I can
decide nothing without consulting my wife." His wife, whom he had
reduced to a state of helpless slavery, was a useful screen to him in
business. He went nowhere among friends; he neither gave nor accepted
dinners; he made no stir or noise, seeming to economize in everything,
even movement. He never disturbed or disarranged the things of other
people, out of respect for the rights of property. Nevertheless, in
spite of his soft voice, in spite of his circumspect bearing, the
language and habits of a coarse nature came to the surface, especially
in his own home, where he controlled himself less than elsewhere.

Physically, Grandet was a man five feet high, thick-set, square-built,
with calves twelve inches in circumference, knotted knee-joints, and
broad shoulders; his face was round, tanned, and pitted by the
small-pox; his chin was straight, his lips had no curves, his teeth
were white; his eyes had that calm, devouring expression which people
attribute to the basilisk; his forehead, full of transverse wrinkles,
was not without certain significant protuberances; his yellow-grayish
hair was said to be silver and gold by certain young people who did
not realize the impropriety of making a jest about Monsieur Grandet.
His nose, thick at the end, bore a veined wen, which the common people
said, not without reason, was full of malice. The whole countenance
showed a dangerous cunning, an integrity without warmth, the egotism
of a man long used to concentrate every feeling upon the enjoyments of
avarice and upon the only human being who was anything whatever to
him,--his daughter and sole heiress, Eugenie. Attitude, manners,
bearing, everything about him, in short, testified to that belief in
himself which the habit of succeeding in all enterprises never fails
to give to a man.

Thus, though his manners were unctuous and soft outwardly, Monsieur
Grandet's nature was of iron. His dress never varied; and those who
saw him to-day saw him such as he had been since 1791. His stout shoes
were tied with leathern thongs; he wore, in all weathers, thick
woollen stockings, short breeches of coarse maroon cloth with silver
buckles, a velvet waistcoat, in alternate stripes of yellow and puce,
buttoned squarely, a large maroon coat with wide flaps, a black
cravat, and a quaker's hat. His gloves, thick as those of a gendarme,
lasted him twenty months; to preserve them, he always laid them
methodically on the brim of his hat in one particular spot. Saumur
knew nothing further about this personage.

Only six individuals had a right of entrance to Monsieur Grandet's
house. The most important of the first three was a nephew of Monsieur
Cruchot. Since his appointment as president of the Civil courts of
Saumur this young man had added the name of Bonfons to that of
Cruchot. He now signed himself C. de Bonfons. Any litigant so
ill-advised as to call him Monsieur Cruchot would soon be made to feel
his folly in court. The magistrate protected those who called him
Monsieur le president, but he favored with gracious smiles those who
addressed him as Monsieur de Bonfons. Monsieur le president was
thirty-three years old, and possessed the estate of Bonfons (Boni
Fontis), worth seven thousand francs a year; he expected to inherit the
property of his uncle the notary and that of another uncle, the Abbe
Cruchot, a dignitary of the chapter of Saint-Martin de Tours, both of
whom were thought to be very rich. These three Cruchots, backed by a
goodly number of cousins, and allied to twenty families in the town,
formed a party, like the Medici in Florence; like the Medici, the
Cruchots had their Pazzi.

Madame des Grassins, mother of a son twenty-three years of age, came
assiduously to play cards with Madame Grandet, hoping to marry her
dear Adolphe to Mademoiselle Eugenie. Monsieur des Grassins, the
banker, vigorously promoted the schemes of his wife by means of secret
services constantly rendered to the old miser, and always arrived in
time upon the field of battle. The three des Grassins likewise had
their adherents, their cousins, their faithful allies. On the Cruchot
side the abbe, the Talleyrand of the family, well backed-up by his
brother the notary, sharply contested every inch of ground with his
female adversary, and tried to obtain the rich heiress for his nephew
the president.

This secret warfare between the Cruchots and des Grassins, the prize
thereof being the hand in marriage of Eugenie Grandet, kept the
various social circles of Saumur in violent agitation. Would
Mademoiselle Grandet marry Monsieur le president or Monsieur Adolphe
des Grassins? To this problem some replied that Monsieur Grandet would
never give his daughter to the one or to the other. The old cooper,
eaten up with ambition, was looking, they said, for a peer of France,
to whom an income of three hundred thousand francs would make all the
past, present, and future casks of the Grandets acceptable. Others
replied that Monsieur and Madame des Grassins were nobles, and
exceedingly rich; that Adolphe was a personable young fellow; and that
unless the old man had a nephew of the pope at his beck and call, such
a suitable alliance ought to satisfy a man who came from nothing,--a
man whom Saumur remembered with an adze in his hand, and who had,
moreover, worn the _bonnet rouge_. Certain wise heads called attention
to the fact that Monsieur Cruchot de Bonfons had the right of entry to
the house at all times, whereas his rival was received only on
Sundays. Others, however, maintained that Madame des Grassins was more
intimate with the women of the house of Grandet than the Cruchots
were, and could put into their minds certain ideas which would lead,
sooner or later, to success. To this the former retorted that the Abbe
Cruchot was the most insinuating man in the world: pit a woman against
a monk, and the struggle was even. "It is diamond cut diamond," said a
Saumur wit.

The oldest inhabitants, wiser than their fellows, declared that the
Grandets knew better than to let the property go out of the family,
and that Mademoiselle Eugenie Grandet of Saumur would be married to
the son of Monsieur Grandet of Paris, a wealthy wholesale
wine-merchant. To this the Cruchotines and the Grassinists replied:
"In the first place, the two brothers have seen each other only twice
in thirty years; and next, Monsieur Grandet of Paris has ambitious
designs for his son. He is mayor of an arrondissement, a deputy,
colonel of the National Guard, judge in the commercial courts; he
disowns the Grandets of Saumur, and means to ally himself with some
ducal family,--ducal under favor of Napoleon." In short, was there
anything not said of an heiress who was talked of through a
circumference of fifty miles, and even in the public conveyances from
Angers to Blois, inclusively!

At the beginning of 1811, the Cruchotines won a signal advantage over
the Grassinists. The estate of Froidfond, remarkable for its park, its
mansion, its farms, streams, ponds, forests, and worth about three
millions, was put up for sale by the young Marquis de Froidfond, who
was obliged to liquidate his possessions. Maitre Cruchot, the
president, and the abbe, aided by their adherents, were able to
prevent the sale of the estate in little lots. The notary concluded a
bargain with the young man for the whole property, payable in gold,
persuading him that suits without number would have to be brought
against the purchasers of small lots before he could get the money for
them; it was better, therefore, to sell the whole to Monsieur Grandet,
who was solvent and able to pay for the estate in ready money. The
fine marquisate of Froidfond was accordingly conveyed down the gullet
of Monsieur Grandet, who, to the great astonishment of Saumur, paid
for it, under proper discount, with the usual formalities.

This affair echoed from Nantes to Orleans. Monsieur Grandet took
advantage of a cart returning by way of Froidfond to go and see his
chateau. Having cast a master's eye over the whole property, he
returned to Saumur, satisfied that he had invested his money at five
per cent, and seized by the stupendous thought of extending and
increasing the marquisate of Froidfond by concentrating all his
property there. Then, to fill up his coffers, now nearly empty, he
resolved to thin out his woods and his forests, and to sell off the
poplars in the meadows.
 
 
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